Author : Ian Hill
The two men stood shifting their weight uneasily, peering into the depths of the passageway’s stone entrance. Leaves of autumn crunched underfoot as they nervously glanced back over their shoulders down the length of the bright forest corridor. Looming tree palisades stood on either side of the lowered grass path like waiting sentries.
“So uh… what do you think is in there?” the first man asked, nodding toward the dark opening.
The other man shrugged. “Never been this far down the corridor before.”
Silence returned as they crept ever closer to the archway that was set into the steep hillside. Around the door the trees didn’t part, there was a single direction to go and that was down into the void.
“Hold up.” the second man said, grabbing his comrade’s shoulder haltingly.
“What is it?” he hissed, glancing at the man.
“Why don’t we head on back?” he continued, voice tinged with obvious trepidation. “Back down the ridge. We can find another path.”
“We can’t go back now.”
The man sighed and eased his grip. “Why not into the forest?”
“Ha.” the first man cackled incredulously, turning back to face his friend. He motioned vaguely toward the sheer walls of birch that covered their flanks. “You can’t see past three feet in there. It’s dark. Darker than whatever’s down there. Maybe even darker than where we came from.”
“Listen to me.” the second man stressed. “For our whole lives we’ve seen the explorers head down bright ridge corridor and the other paths. No one reaches the end and comes back to tell the tale.”
“There are exactly four ways out and three of them are blocked.” his comrade replied angrily. “Five if you count going into the forest, but that’s pure suicide. We can’t go back now. What’s waiting for us beyond the ridge… I’m not willing to face that. What I am willing to do is gaze into the abyss.” he reached into the messenger bag at his side and retrieved a sturdy gas lamp.
The second man frowned as his comrade lit the internal wick with a match. He held the lantern up to the archway and squinted into the haze. The passage took a sharp decline, the flight blurring the definition between ladders and stairs.
“Whoever made this place had to get in and out somehow. For all we know this is how they did it.” the man with the lantern said, edging closer to the stone slope. He glanced back down the corridor past his comrade, observing the natural beauty one last time.
“They told us to never go this far…” the second man murmured uncomfortably.
“So be it.” the first man replied, turning back to face the opening. After briefly bracing himself he took the plunge and began the silent descent.
The second man stood alone, listening to the wind as it whistled through the dense field of tree branches. Red and brown leaves swept up from the corridor’s dirt ground and softly floated through the air. He was torn between two equally grim but contrasted paths. The chanting words of the elders rang through his head like a bell, warning him of the corridor and what lay at its end.
The distant mechanical voice from beyond the ridge echoed through the air to reach the man’s ears. It was searching for them. He sighed and shook his head in frustration. Slowly, he shuffled toward the stone entrance.